Man in black coat, gray beanie and mask walks through the snowy memorials outside Cup Foods in Minneapolis.

“It felt like war” — a Minneapolis chef’s reflections on the upheaval of spring 2020 and the flashbacks it brought

MINNEAPOLIS, MN —

October, 2020.

Outside the windows of Sameh’s black SUV, the slush piled along the curbsides indicated an entire season had come and gone, but the wreckage — still black from char — looked so fresh I almost expected to smell it.

As we crawled along Minneapolis’ Lake St., rubble lined the road. Not on one particular corner, or for a couple blocks, but peppering miles of the thoroughfare known once for tacos, Somalian food and mom-and-pop groceries; a stretch now known for the end of one era and the start of a next.

It was spring when George Floyd’s life was seized not too far from here; outside the local Cup Foods that has now become infamous: an eerie memorial filled with blockades, self-appointed protectorates and impassioned art painted on the brick walls of nearby buildings and strung from lamp posts.

On that day in May, the city erupted— spurred by anguish and mourning, anger at decades of policy and neglect, and finally, simply chaos and anarchy.

Everything in the path of these emotions was a matchstick, and together, the local businesses lining this intimate corridor were licked up into the bonfire; hundreds of buildings turned to scrap, to empty lots, to piles of destruction where neighborhoods once hummed.

An emotional return to Minneapolis

Last Wednesday, I landed in Minneapolis for the first time in a year.

And the first emotion I could identify upon my return to my adopted home of eight years was “weird.”

Obviously, I was more than excited to see friends and former colleagues, for a three-week summer stint on the precipice of returning to Central America.

But as the plane from Montréal, my previous stop, descended into the Twin Cities, I could only think of the last time I was in that air space. 

It was June 28, 2018, and I was leaving everything I knew, bound for everything I didn’t. I was ready for this move, I thought. Weeks earlier, I had sold all my belongings — the things acquired over 32 years of life — left my job at the Star Tribune, said a tearful goodbye to the house that claimed so many memories, bid farewells to friends of a lifetime. I did so with so many dreams, with so much motivation. I’ve never felt regret. 

But in that moment, in a left-side window seat in the back of the plane, I was struggling to breathe. 

A loveletter to Minneapolis

Dear Minneapolis,

When I came to you in 2010, I was just 24, an intern, and eager to charge into a new city for what I thought would be three months.

When the summer ended, and I was offered a full-time job to stay, I still believed I would only stick around for two years, max. I was on a tear, then.  I wanted to live everywhere and never slow down.

But you wrapped your tree-trunk arms around me, showing me a metropolitan area with so much green. A place where you could bike to sky-scrapers in 10 minutes and bike to a lake in five. A town with top-tier options for eating, drinking and the arts but a blue-collar vibe. A city with with quirky neighborhoods, charming street corners and much more diversity than meets the eye.

I made OK money and didn’t pay too much for rent. There wasn’t a place in the city I couldn’t get by bike.

I decided to stay for a while.

stuff your life

How to stuff your life into four boxes

Step 1: Have some things, maybe a lot of things, and a place to live, maybe you even really like that place, and a vibrant, complex life stationed somewhere, maybe it’s kind of great.

Step 2: Remove 98 percent of step one.

Welcome to my insane life! I’m currently in the process of removing 98 percent of it and stuffing the rest into four oversized plastic bins.